When You're Not There: Aquarium Care for Emergencies and Vacations

How to prepare your aquarium before you leave for a vacation.

If you've been doing some research on taking care of your new aquarium or are an experienced fish keeper, you'll no doubt have noticed that while the requirements of an aquarium are not very difficult to fulfill, they do require ongoing attention. So what happens if you want to go on vacation and no one will be around to do water changes? What if there's a family emergency that takes your time and attention for extended periods of time? Life is so unpredictable you can never be absolutely certain that you'll always be there to look after your fish, but with a few alterations to your daily aquarium care schedule you can effectively switch to a temporary "low-maintenance" mode.

The primary concern with extended absences or emergency situations where there's just no time to perform aquarium maintenance tasks is the water quality. Depending on stocking levels, aquariums need a partial water change anywhere from once a month to as often as once a week. If you're like me, you barely trust anyone else to feed your fish, much less perform water changes, so the ideal solution is to find a way to maintain water quality for extended periods until you can resume your normal maintenance routine.

Water changes are done to remove excess nitrates in the system; nitrate is the end product after ammonia and nitrites from waste and uneaten food have been broken down by beneficial bacteria. If you wish to slow the rate of nitrate buildup, you simply have to reduce the amount of waste and uneaten food in the aquarium; when you're not able to do water changes, this means feeding less. In the wild there is no guarantee of getting regular food; as a result a fish's metabolism is such that the fish can take advantage of food when it is offered but can also live for days or weeks with very little or no food without it having an adverse effect on the fish's health. So, option one is to cut back to only feeding the fish once every two or three days; this won't completely stop the level of nitrates from growing, but it will help slow it.

Next, you can use a water maintenance product such as EcoBio-Stone in your aquarium. EcoBio-Block contains a strain of hardy beneficial bacteria that break down the ammonia and nitrites from waste. Additionally, the product leaches essential minerals into the water; these minerals are used up quickly by the fish and generally need to be replaced through water changes unless a water maintenance product is present. There is also evidence indicating that EcoBio-Block helps promote the growth of anaerobic bacteria in the substrate which breaks nitrates down into a gas that can evaporate, making water changes unnecessary. There haven't been sufficient studies to confirm this yet, but aquarists have observed low nitrate levels and have been able to go for even a year at a time without doing a partial water change. Organic material such as waste and excess food will still need to be removed either through the filtration system or gravel vacuums, but that can be done at your leisure.

Other than ensuring water quality, about the only maintenance routine that must be seen to regardless of outside events are occasional checks to ensure there is no disease showing in the tank, no deaths for any reason, that filter pads are clean and all equipment are running properly. copyright©ONEdersave Products



The Dreaded White Spot: Treating and Preventing Ich

fish with ichIf you keep fish, you've almost certainly heard of Ichthyophthirius Multifillis...or, more simply, Ich. Though many amateur aquarists misdiagnose their afflicted fish with Ich because of the presence of any kind of white spot, once your fish actually have the real disease it's unmistakable.

Ich is a parasite that first appears as a bunch of small white cysts on the fish's skin, generally concentrated around the gills and fins. These spots are "clean" and compact, looking much like someone sprinkled salt over your fish. If this does not describe the spots on your fish, it's not Ich...fin rot, columnaris and a multitude of other parasites and infections have some form of white or grey spotting. Ich can be deadly to the fish, though surprisingly most fish that have Ich do not die because of the parasites. Instead, most die from secondary infections from having less-than-pristine water or even from the harsh medications meant to treat Ich.

How do the fish get Ich? Sometimes it's from infected new fish, sometimes there are even parasites already living in the aquarium that you never know about until conditions are right for them to infect the fish. So what do you do? keep your fish as healthy as humanly possible. If a fish is active with a strong immune system and a healthy slime coat, their chances of being infected are minimal. In the event that such a healthy fish does get infected, they have a very good chance of fighting off the parasite and avoiding secondary infections.

The first step to keeping fish healthy is to feed them a high-quality, varied diet. The food sold at most pet stores do not qualify as high-quality, though if it's all that's available it will do for maintenance care as long as they have some dietary variation. It's easy to cultivate live food such as brine shrimp, vinegar eels, mosquito larvae or grindal worms to add necessary protein and variety into the diet. There are plenty of online sources of healthy fish food as well as recipes for creating your own top-of-the-line food for your finned pets.

The next - and most important - step to keeping fish healthy and preventing secondary infections in afflicted fish is to have a clean aquarium. Just because the water is clear, doesn't mean it's clean or healthy. A healthy tank will require a partial water change at least every two weeks, depending on stocking levels (though water maintenance products such as EcoBio-Stones can significantly reduce these), and nitrate levels need to be kept below 20ppm. Most books and sites will recommend no more than 40ppm nitrates, however some types of fish and invertebrates such as snails, shrimp, smaller tetras and angels do not like the higher levels, so it's always best to err on the side of caution.

Water changes help keep the parameters within acceptable limits, help remove excess organic material such as waste and uneaten food, and also replenish required minerals in the water that the fish use up over time. If you prefer not to do as many water changes or are physically unable to, there are alternatives to doing so many. My favorite is the aforementioned EcoBio-Stone, which is a water maintenance product that introduces beneficial bacteria into the aquarium (which keeps the biological filter healthy) and slowly leaches necessary minerals into the water to keep fish healthy. You'll still need to do a gravel vacuum occasionally to remove excess organic material or stir your substrate to get rid of potentially harmful gas pockets and bring the organic material up where your mechanical filter can remove it from the aquarium.

Finally, if your fish do get Ich, avoid commercial medications if possible. Most Ich medications contain Malachite Green, a chemical that is very toxic in concentrated amounts and is often used as a dye. This is very effective at killing parasites, but is also very hard on the fish and you run a risk of killing them too. Invertebrates and plants are at special risk with these products. Instead, make sure your water parameters are ideal (this may require a partial water change) and then treat with aquarium salt and a topical antibiotic such as Melafix. Exactly how much of each of these will depend on the size of your tank and whether you have invertebrates or scale-less fish such as tetras. While any medication is being used you should remove activated carbon from the filter. If you have EcoBio-Stone, vacation food, calcium blocks or any other leave-in or time-released products they will need to be removed before treating the aquarium. Keep EcoBio-Stone in de-chlorinated water if you'd like to avoid any extra re-starting time.

If you wish to decrease treatment time, raising the temperature will speed up the life cycle of the parasites so they can be killed sooner, but be careful if you decide to do this. Many sources suggest heating the water to 80F which is great for tetras, guppies and the like, but the safe temperature varies widely for each fish. The temperature of the water determines how much dissolved oxygen the water can hold, so it's safe to heat the water to the upper comfortable limit for each fish but not much warmer. This means that for many hardy community fish 80F works well, but for some goldfish or mosquito fish it shouldn't be any warmer than 75F while some types of cichlids may be able to handle 83F without a problem. Do some research on all the species of fish in your aquarium to determine how much you can safely heat the water.

Bear in mind that the salt will kill the parasites, but it cannot harm them while they are inside the fish. It can take up to two weeks for the cysts to burst and another couple of weeks after that for all of them to die. The aquarium should remain treated for the entire time, about 4-5 weeks. The antibiotic helps prevent deadly secondary infections. After the treatment phase is over the salt and medication may be removed by water changes or with activated carbon; then you just need to examine your feeding and maintenance habits to keep the infestation from happening again.

copyright©ONEdersave Products LLC



Aquarium Basics: Surviving Power Outages

power outaged roadAquariums are wonderful additions to any home, but problems can arise from the fact that essential life functions within the aquarium are facilitated by electricity - namely, oxygen and temperature regulation. Strong winds, lightning, falling tree branches and floods can all cause unexpected power outages, and in small towns or rural areas even automobile accidents that involve power poles can plunge households into darkness as the only means of electricity has to be shut down. Here are a few tips on how to safeguard your beloved aquarium in the event of a power outage.

The most important thing to keep going in the aquarium is the oxygen exchange. Beneficial bacteria in the tank require a lot of oxygen, so once a filter and aerator stop working the dissolved oxygen depletes very quickly. Once oxygen is depleted the bacteria colonies begin dying off or becoming inactive, allowing ammonia levels to rise. Hardy strains of bacteria such as the bacillus subtilis natto strain used in EcoBio-Block will mostly become inactive, but return to actively breaking down ammonia as soon as proper oxygen levels are restored. This can happen within an hour or two of losing power, depending on stocking levels. Additionally, a lot of beneficial bacteria lives in filter media so if you have a canister filter or HOB filter that keeps the media out of the main body of water a large portion of the aquarium's bacteria may be unavailable instantly.

This is where planning ahead can be a real lifesaver...and back saver! If your power goes out and you don't have a generator, having all your aquarium equipment plugged into an uninterrupted power supply is possibly one of the best ways to keep going for short-term outages. Battery-powered aerators are available online and in many pet stores as well and can be a great asset during outages or when traveling with fish. If none of these are available, you can manually facilitate oxygen exchange by filling a pitcher from the tank (here's where the back comes in) and dumping the water back in, then repeating at regular intervals until power comes back.

Now for temperature control; in cold weather, a watertight container filled with boiling water (provided you have a gas range or access to a wood-burning stove) makes a great heater that will keep fish near it warm. In hot weather, a water-tight container or two or three ziplock baggies inside each other (to prevent leaks) with ice cubes in it will keep water near it cool enough for the fish.

If the power is out for extended periods of time you may have to watch the water parameters closely when the aquarium is functioning again as a lot of beneficial bacteria can die from oxygen deprivation, causing ammonia spikes. To control these you'll either need to do water changes every day to keep ammonia levels down until the bacteria catches up again, or you can add some new bacteria from products such as EcoBio-Stone or BioSpira. BioSpira is a bottled bacteria culture that works well, but has to be refrigerated and has a limited shelf life so it may not be the best for emergency preparation. EcoBio-Block is a water maintenance product that lasts about 1 1/2-2 years in the aquarium; this product introduces and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria as well as keeps the water parameters healthy, which can reduce fish stress in an emergency. EcoBio-Block is a very valuable maintenance product that will keep the aquarium water healthy every day in addition to emergency uses, but it can take up to a couple of weeks to start working initially so it should already be in place to be effective in an emergency.

copyright©ONEdersave Products LLC



Defeating the Green Monster: Controlling Green Water in Your Aquarium

Green water is a nasty problem in many aquariums; one day you have a gorgeous, crystal-clear tank and the next day you wake up to an aquarium of opaque green. This condition is caused by a free-floating algae bloom, and it really can go from no problem at all to being able to see absolutely nothing inside the aquarium overnight. So what do you do about it?

As with most things, the best cure is prevention. Green water occurs when an aquarium is overstocked or has too much decaying organic matter in it. This process creates an excess of nitrates and other nutrients that feed the algae. Once all the right environmental factors are in place, the algae takes over quickly and mercilessly. The key is to keep nitrates down and the water parameters healthy for the fish.

You can start by ensuring you're not over-feeding your fish. A fish in the wild can never be certain where its next meal is coming from, so its metabolism has adapted into that of an opportunistic eater. Healthy fish will always be hungry, so you can not simply feed them until they stop eating. Give your fish just enough that it takes them about two minutes to eat all the food twice a day (three times if you have juveniles); if you see uneaten food get to the bottom, cut back a little.

Next, make sure you have good mechanical filtration and a well-aerated tank. For additional preventative, you can use a time-released water maintenance product such as EcoBio-Block products. These products last up to two years apiece and ensure that the water in the aquarium stays perfectly balanced by breaking down the toxic ammonia and nitrites from waste and excess food, as well as re-supplying essential minerals in the water as they're used up by the fish.

Many aquarists believe that direct sunlight is the main cause of green water and this is not true. While direct sunlight should be avoided because of its effects on the water temperature, algae can not bloom without quite a bit of excess nutrients in the water. It is true that algae can not grow without light as well, but the algae requires very little light for its photosynthesis; once it's started, any tiny bit of natural light that reaches the aquarium will be sufficient to continue its growth.

Live plants are great for helping get rid of excess nitrates and there are many hardy varieties that will use up a lot of the spare nitrates that algae blooms feed on. In most cases you'll want to keep an eye on the plants so dead pieces can be removed before they start to decay, however this is not a problem if you have an EcoBio-stone or adult P. bridgesii (a type of apple snail commonly sold in pet stores), or "brigs". Brigs grow to about the size of golf balls, lay their eggs above the water line so population control is easy, and as adults never eat healthy plants. Be certain you have an adult before you introduce it into a planted tank, though, because the juveniles are still able (and very willing!) to eat healthy plants. If you decide on snails, do a little research first. P. canaliculata, or "canas", can look very similar to brigs if you aren't familiar with them, and canas grow to the size of a softball and will always have a voracious appetite for live plants.

Regular partial water changes are required to keep the nitrates down and remove organic material from the aquarium. Again, if you have a time-released product such as EcoBio-Stone this is not necessary, though occasionally stirring your substrate to get rid of potentially harmful gas pockets and to send organic materials through your mechanical filter is recommended. If the water is kept in pristine condition, you will not have a problem with green water.

Finally, once you have green water it is difficult and time-consuming to get rid of. You can begin by restricting light, even covering the outside of the aquarium with paper to keep additional light out, and do a partial water change to get rid of some of the excess nutrients. Note that the water changes in themselves will do nothing to get rid of the algae, it reproduces quickly and can only be gotten rid of through "starvation". Cut back your fish's food and leave the tank light off for the duration of the clearing time. It may take a couple of weeks to clear up.

As soon as the tank is clear, immediately take some of the preventative measures outlined above to avoid re-occurrence. I especially recommend ensuring that you have a good mechanical filter, plenty of aeration to keep beneficial bacteria healthy, and a time-released maintenance product to ensure the water is always as close to perfect as possible.

copyright©ONEdersave Products LLC


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